Today I want to tell you all about an exciting monthly event I have been hosting – The Nashville Berklee Jam, and its new accessibility to everyone in the Nashville music community. The beginnings of this idea came to me a few years ago when I first attended the annual Nashville Berklee Alumni Reception. On my way home that night, I remember thinking how great it was to meet so many musicians in one night who were so passionate about their musical ambitions and so hungry for knowledge. These musical comrades were a mix of Berklee alumni residing in middle Tennessee and Berklee students who came down for the annual Nashville field trip. At this reception I made connections with other like-minded alums and students who came down on the field trip, the latter peppering me with questions about my experiences in Music City. This event was a very stimulating night as the energy of three hundred musical minds meeting and conversing seemed to create an air of camaraderie and untapped potential! Then I went home and another year passed before I got this fix again.
So this past winter I decided to create a monthly event to try to emulate this musical networking hoedown on a smaller scale, and The Nashville Berklee Jam was born. Held on the first or second Tuesday of the month from 7 PM to 11 PM at The Fillin’ Station in Kingston Springs, TN, these events start out with an informal meet and greet, followed by a Nashville music industry guest speaker, and end with an open jam. So far the reception has been very positive, here’s a recap (with links to their corresponding blogs):
February – A-list session bassist, Mike Chapman gave a great talk about being a session musician, outlining key concepts in what he calls, “the essential slices of the session player pizza”. He also jammed with several alums after the talk.
March – award-winning vocal coach, producer, and hit songwriter, Judy Rodman gave an insightful talk about career paths for vocalists. She also performed a couple of songs with the house band and then critiqued and coached several vocal performances, helping vocalists make instant improvements.
April – Stevie Ray Vaughan keyboardist, Reese Wynans shared his fascinating story about being a lifelong-career musician, the life-changing moment that came on his last night with Delbert McClinton that landed him the SRV gig, and the whirlwind years that followed. After his talk, he joined us for a few inspired performances.
May – fellow alum, musician, and author of “The Nashville Number System”, Chas Williams gave an introductory class on this subject. After the class, he charted one of alum, Sarah Tollerson’s originals and performed it with Sarah and the house band with everybody reading the chart off a dry erase board.
June – drummer, producer, and clinician, Rich Redmond gave an inspiring talk on “Navigating the Nashville Music Industry” speaking candidly about his early “lean years” in Music City and different approaches to finding success here. After his talk he sat in for a few tunes and stuck around to chat with others in attendance.
For our next event, to be held on Tuesday, July 10, I will be giving a talk that continues last month’s theme – “Navigating the Nashville Music Industry – Part Two”, during which I will explore some of the concepts I write about in my book “The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide”. And, this just in, for our event in August we are proud to announce that the guest speaker/performer will be none other than Nashville guitar ace, Jack Pearson, formerly of the Allman Brothers, Vince Gill and many others.
All of the guest speakers have given great talks, sharing their knowledge and providing inspiration, and these talks have been interactive with many great questions and comments from alums. My band, Skinny Buddha (comprised of Berklee alumni and others from the Nashville music community) provides backline and a starting point for the laid back jams which have covered everything from originals to classic rock to blues tunes to two-chord jams. All of these events have been great friendship building and networking experiences for all involved, as well as educational. So far, the attendance has been mostly comprised of Berklee alumni, but as there seems to be a growing interest from others in Nashville, we are now officially making this event open to the Public. Nashville is a diverse and complex music community in which a Berklee alumni community also resides, and it is my goal to help these two worlds intersect and meld together.
So come on out to our next “Nashville Berklee Jam” On Tuesday, July 10. I hope to see you there!
P.S. if you have any comments, thoughts, or questions, please feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com.
The latest Nashville Berklee Jam last Tuesday was a great success, thanks to all who attended! The weather was beautiful, so we had a very laid back talk outside on the patio at The Fillin’ Station, our usual location for this event. Rich Redmond, the guest speaker on this night, has worn a lot of hats during his 15 years in Nashville – session/touring drummer, producer, clinician, public speaker, and his hour-long talk gave all in attendance some great perspective into different ways to navigate the Nashville music industry.
Rich spoke of the need to aggressively market yourself to find work in Nashville and how in his earliest days he obtained work by handing out demo cds of his drumming abilities to almost everyone he would meet around town. He candidly talked about those ‘lean years’, and that long before he was recording on hit records, touring the world with Jason Aldean, and producing acts like ‘Thompson Square’, he was hustling gigs on Broadway, playing in corporate party bands – whatever was necessary to insure survival.
For those who are just starting out in Nashville, he recommended that musicians “take every gig that’s offered”, as every new gig can potentially lead to new relationships and different career opportunities and that “If you give more to people then they expect, if you consistently exceed expectations, people are going to want to work with you.”
He spoke of the need to be ultra-professional by “always returning phone calls in a timely manner, always returning e-mails in a timely manner, being professional, being flexible, having the right gear to do the job and never mailing in a performance…”
Regarding the importance of reputation he said “You can have a great website, you can Tweet 1000 times a day, you can have a fantastic business card that’s got the really good paper, you know the really firm stuff that you have to pay extra for, and it’s still going to come down to word-of-mouth. In this [digital] age it’s so easy to be talked about in a positive or negative way, globally.”
During one part of the talk he mentioned a concept he refers to as “CRASH” a phrase he coined that stands for Commitment, Relationships, Attitude, Skill and Hunger – the five key ingredients he believes are necessary to succeed. He also spoke of the importance of defining your own success, a concept I talk about in my book “The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide” (coincidentally, Rich contributed to the writing of this book).
After fielding several questions, he finished his talk and we all headed inside to make some music. Everyone who wanted to jam got a chance to sit in, and several great performances took place – ranging from classic rock covers to blues jams to originals. Rich stayed till the end making himself accessible to anyone who wanted to hang and chat, and during the middle of the jam he got behind the drum kit and played a few songs with me and several other alums. Here’s an MP3 of us playing a spirited version of the Jimi Hendrix classic, ‘Little Wing’ Little Wing Berklee Jam w Rich Redmond low. The night ended and we all headed home, but not until gathering for a group photo.
I want to thank everybody who came out and participated to make this another great event, see you at the next one! The next Nashville Berklee Jam will be held on Tuesday, July 10 – check back in a few days for info on the guest speaker for that night.
Have you ever experienced hand or arm pain, or pain in your joints when playing a musical instrument? Perhaps you experience this pain while working at a computer or a mixing console? How about weakness or numbness in your hands or fingers? If you have, or do experience any of these symptoms on a regular basis you are not alone, you, like me, are one of many who live with repetitive motion injuries.
Several years ago, while working on the Toby Keith tour, I was helping the crew load some heavy cases onto a truck. Everything was going fine until one particularly hard-to-maneuver case began to fall off the ramp, with my hand still holding one of the handles. The case didn’t fall completely off the ramp and we were able to pull it back up, but not without my right elbow becoming engulfed in pain. My first thought was that maybe I had sprained something, but I had sprained joints before and they didn’t feel like this. This pain seemed to be centered on my right elbow, and was an intense, burning sensation, like my elbow was on fire. I also felt pain if I squeezed or gripped anything in my right hand. I was instructed by the road manager to get it checked out by a doctor as soon as we returned to Nashville.
At the time of this incident I had already been playing guitar for over 20 years, I had previously worked in construction for several years, and was currently performing a fairly physical job as a guitar tech. All of those years of daily, repetitive hand and arm motions suddenly caught up with me, hurling me full speed into the world of “repetitive motion injuries”. According to the doctors, I had developed tendinitis, and while this incident with the road case may have acted as a trigger, “it had likely been a long time in the making”, they explained. “So how do we heal this?” I asked.
The approach that the doctors chose for me was a regular course of anti-inflammatories, a steroid shot, an arm brace, and the recommendation to “do your best to avoid lifting or gripping anything heavy”, the last piece of advice being somewhat unrealistic for a guitar tech. Although I did follow these recommendations, even adapting some of the physical elements of my job, several weeks later I was still experiencing a lot of pain on a daily basis. It still hurt to grip things with my right hand, and I was beginning to have wrist pain and numbness down my arm. With my situation worsening, the doctors now recommended physical therapy, and this is where I finally began to see some results.
The physical therapist took an entirely different approach. He showed me several hand and arm stretches, which I was instructed to perform daily, he massaged the area of inflammation, and iced it. He showed me how to do the massages myself, and instructed me to do them every morning and night after the stretches, the application of ice always being at the end of the routine. He told me to “listen to my body” and that to perform my regular physical activities as long as they didn’t cause pain. “If an action begins to cause pain, try not to do it.” Making great improvements over the following weeks, I couldn’t understand why the doctors hadn’t recommended any of these approaches. In fact, the doctors did very little to explain the finer points of my affliction, most of what I learned about what causes tendinitis and how to deal with it, I learned from the physical therapist.
Over the following months I was able to get an upper hand on my tendinitis, and through regular stretching, didn’t have any more problems for several years. Then I had a setback. One day I was making a homemade pedal board and spent several hours tightly gripping and squeezing a rivet gun. The end result was a resurgence of the pain in my right elbow as intense as that caused by the Toby Keith road case incident. I paid a couple more visits to a physical therapist who was able to help with some soft tissue manipulation, but the biggest thing he did to help me long term was to introduce me to a whole new way of stretching. The following, which I quoted from my book “The Nashville Musicians Survival Guide”, is part of what I learned.
“The muscles in your arms are actually a series of overlapping interconnected muscles, tendons, and ligaments that run from your fingers all the way to your shoulder. It is because of this fact that it is important to also stretch areas of the arm that might not have any pain or problems. Performing stretches that work your wrists, triceps, and shoulders will ultimately help stretch all the muscles and tendons in between.
Stretching an arm with tendinitis is not the same as stretching a healthy arm and requires some caution. Listen to your body. The stretching should cause some sensation but should not be painful. The more you stretch, the more results you will experience. Stretch at regular intervals throughout the day, always making it a point to warm up with some light cardio before your first stretching sequence. (Stretching cold muscles can cause further injury.) If you are gigging, try to stretch before the performance, after the performance, and even in between songs if you have a chance”…
Taken a step further, it only makes sense to stretch and exercise your entire body, as everything is truly connected… the hip bone’s connected to the leg bone, the leg bone’s connected to the…
I was able to eventually get my recent tendinitis flare up under control, but this affliction still haunts me to this day, with a constant effort required to keep it at bay. If I don’t stretch regularly, the pain comes back, and as the body ages it seems like we are more predisposed to injury – gravity is not on our side. That being said, something that has helped me greatly has been an investment in overall physical fitness, health and well-being. I’ve tried a lot of different exercise programs in recent years, my favorite being the “P90X series” of which I have done several rounds. But I must say that yoga seems to be the one exercise that has helped my overall situation the most, it’s absolutely outstanding for overall flexibility.
Eating healthy food doesn’t hurt either. In fact, there are certain foods that increase inflammation, and others that help to decrease inflammation.
Foods that help decrease inflammation:
Foods containing Omega-3 fatty acids like cold water fish, canola oil, and pumpkin seeds; Olive oil, nuts, fruits, vegetables, lean poultry, legumes, tofu, ginger, and some herbal teas
Foods to Avoid
Junk foods, high-fat meats, sugar, and highly processed foods are at the top of this list. Avoid anything that contains high amounts of trans fats and saturated fats like red meat and high-fat processed meats such as bacon and sausage.
For more info on what foods to eat or avoid, follow this link to read the article from which much of this nutritional information was taken, or visit the website, Do It the Hard Way, to learn some nutrition basics and find healthy recipes.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that tends to address problems only as they occur, rather than focusing on prevention. When I think back to all my years of guitar lessons, even my years of music college, no instructor ever told me that repetitive motion injuries exist, let alone how to prevent or deal with them. If you’re a musician and don’t yet have any of these afflictions, it’s obvious that physical fitness and overall health and well-being will reduce your chances of ever having these problems. And if you are “playing with pain”, you’re not alone, there are many of us. But the good news is that most problems are treatable, there are solutions – they just require a little knowledge, a consistent effort, and some self-investment.
“Every human being is the author of his own health or disease.”
— the Buddha
To gain some more perspective on repetitive motion injuries, as well as some of their common misconceptions, follow this link and read “A Cure for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?” by Jennie Hoeft, as it was reposted on Nashville drummer, Stephen Taylor’s blog.
As some of you might know, there’s a lot going on in Nashville this week. It’s that time of year again where 250,000 country music fans converge on the city for “CMA Music Fest Week” (formally known as Fanfare). Tourists, country music fans, and curiosity seekers from all over the globe will fill the streets, shops, hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and concert halls, and while this can make getting around a little sticky for the locals, it is truly an exciting week for Music City, not to mention good for the local economy. This year, I am fortunate to play my own part in these festivities.
Thursday, June 9 from 11 AM – 2 PM I will be doing a book signing at the Charlie Daniels Museum on Second Avenue in downtown Nashville (between the Hard Rock Café and the Wildhorse Saloon.) This unique museum/gift shop began selling my book last week at which time I was fortunate to meet the museum’s owner, Bud Messer, who requested I come back and do and in-store signing during Fanfare. Bud is a great guy and I am honored to receive this invitation from such a prestigious institution, not to mention the fact that they are now selling my book. (The Ernest Tubb Record Shop on Broadway is also now selling my book.)
This Saturday, June 11 my band will be performing at The Fillin’ Station in Kingston Springs. The fun starts at 7 PM, and if the weather is good (which it looks like it will be), the outdoor patio will be open. This week the band will consist of me on vocals and guitar, Nick “Shaggy Bag” Forchione on drums, Tom Good on bass, and special guest Patrick Weikenand (formerly of the band “War”) on harp and beer slinging. This club is a one-of-a-kind experience, so if you’ve never been, you owe it to yourself to check it out. (no cover.)
Monday, June 13 I will be giving my first talk on the book when I host “The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide Workshop” at Corky’s Ribs & BBQ, 100 Franklin Road, Brentwood, TN 37027. This luncheon will be sponsored by “Indie Connect” and held between 11:30 AM and 1:30 PM. Cost $10.00. This presentation will be somewhat informal and there will be a lot of questions and answers, networking and group interaction.
Other than that, it’s been hot as hell in middle Tennessee for the past month, and we’ve had over 10 straight days of 90° plus heat with no end in sight. Stay on the lookout for heat and poor air-quality advisories.
So that’s it for now, if you’re around, please stop in to one of my events or gigs and say hi.
I’ve wanted to take a step with my vocal abilities for some time now and this year seemed like a good time to do it. A few months ago I dug out an old vocal method book, “The Rock ‘n Roll Singer’s Survival Guide” by Mark Baxter, a vocal coach I had studied with in Boston in the late 90s. After digging into it for a few weeks I came across one of the books many great recommendations – the importance of taking voice lessons from a vocal coach – and that was all I needed for encouragement.
I had recently heard some great things about Nashville-based vocal coach, Judy Rodman, so I decided to give her a try. In early March I took my first lesson at her home studio, a one hour session during which we covered a lot of ground. After discussing my current musical activities and goals, she began the lesson by demonstrating some “mechanics” about the human voice, partially aided by the use of models and diagrams. Then she took me through some warm-ups, all the while listening and observing my “habits.” Next, she had me sing a song of my choosing, and this is when it became even more apparent that she had a truly unique approach to vocal training.
After strapping on my guitar, she had me sing into a mic that was plugged into a couple of floor monitors to emulate a live gig. I don’t think I sang more than a verse before she told me to stop so she could address some issues. Apparently, years of guitar playing, combined with other “intellectual pursuits” had allowed me to develop some bad posture, posture that was restricting my vocal abilities. To begin correcting this, she had me sing while standing with my head and one heal up against the wall, while allowing my shoulders and back to be loose.
She also introduced some other concepts to improve my vocal “path.” One I found particularly enlightening was to pick an object or spot on the wall and imagine that it’s a person to whom I am telling a story. Another was to pretend I’m singing to a deaf person, to cause a deeper articulation of the words and phrases. Yet still another was to raise my eyebrows when I sing, as this expands “the cave” and will allow for a more resonant sound. By the time I left the lesson I was not only inspired to go home and practice, I had made an immediate and noticeable improvement.
Since that day I’ve taken a half-hour lesson every other week and have made great strides, and I actually look forward to practicing! Like any great music teacher or coach, Judy has a gift for custom tailoring each student’s approach and practice regimen; she quickly honed in on my problems and came up with the appropriate exercises and concepts to correct them, each lesson introducing new ones. If you live in middle Tennessee (or anywhere for that matter, as Judy also gives lessons over the phone or via Skype), and are in need of some vocal coaching, I highly recommend Judy, she is truly a vocal coach extraordinaire!
Well that’s it for today; it’s time to go sing!
It was the fall of 2002, I’d been in Nashville for a few months, and had just landed a weekend house gig at Libby’s Steakhouse in Kentucky, a great country music venue in which I could hone my chops. I was spending most of my days selling stuff on eBay, driving around to pawn shops looking for more stuff to sell on eBay, and practicing, practicing, practicing. My recent debacles on Broadway and at a recording studio on Music Row revealed to me that I had a lot of work to do, and this prompted me to get really organized about my practice regimen. While I was still going to downtown Nashville one or two nights a week to network, making the Tuesday night jam at the Fiddle and Steel a regular stop, these weekly outings on the town mainly served to build connections, not so much to sit-in. I needed to improve my country chops quite a bit before I would be comfortable enough to put myself out there on the chopping block again.
So every Friday around dinnertime I would set out for Daysville, Kentucky, sometimes accompanied by my wife, sometimes not. Each weekend outing at Libby’s would introduce me to new material, and I would obtain recordings of these songs to work on over the following week. In addition to learning these songs and other standards I heard around town, I was digging in hard to my technique in general, practicing country rhythm, chicken pickin’, Western swing and, to avoid losing any ground, a little rock, blues, and jazz as well. A friend of mine had given me a CD of some old-school country tele players, Bill Kirchen and Redd Volkaert aka the Twang Bangers, and I listened to and tried to mimic their lines, style, and feel. I also did the same with recordings of Alan Jackson that featured Brent Mason.
To create a challenging way to practice all these new techniques, I burned a mix CD comprised of several country, western swing, and bluegrass tunes. The 11 song guitar workout CD covered nine different keys, a variety of tempos, and several different feels (straight eighths, swing, etc).
Folsom Prison Blues
Truck Drivin’ Man
Chase Each Other Round the Room
How Mountain Girls Can Love
Poultry in Motion
She Loves Anything
I Don’t Think Hank Done It This Way
medium eighths (Waylon Stomp)
Quit Feelin’ Sorry
Prior to moving to Nashville, I had never used the chicken pickin’ technique, and as it was the weakest link in my chain, it was the technique I practiced the most. This technique is a hybrid way of picking the strings on a guitar. Holding the pic between your thumb and first finger, you alternate between picking the strings with the pic, and plucking the strings with either the third finger or second and third finger. This is also commonly referred to as “the claw”. Both rhythm and lead lines can be played with this technique, and practicing along with this CD, without pausing in between songs, somewhat emulated the pace and variations that might happen while performing with a live band.
Every day I worked diligently in my basement music room, practicing country music standards and technique. I would practice until my right hand felt like it was falling off, or until I felt like throwing my guitar through the window, always managing to stop just prior to either thing happening. My improvement was slow, but steady, and gradually the other players at my weekend gig began to notice. I would practice and do the eBay thing all week long, go downtown to network for a couple of evenings, and head off to Kentucky for the weekends.
Libby’s was a family kind of place with a relaxed atmosphere and served no alcohol. But this didn’t stop some of the band members, me occasionally included, from sneaking a beer or two out back before the shows and during breaks. Hey, we were playing country music at a steakhouse in Kentucky; I don’t think Merle or Hank would disapprove. In all fairness to Libby, who was trying to run this show as professionally as he could, everyone seemed to keep the Budweiser buzz to a dull roar, always making a strong performance the priority (okay, maybe a few times the steel player got a little too loopy and hacked a little). But Budweiser or not, we had a great time. The players and the guest singers always gave it their all, and the crowd, no matter how big or small, always showed appreciation.
I worked at Libby’s for about four or five months through that fall and winter and, in hindsight, it was the best thing that could have happened to me at that point in time. By early spring I felt ready to dig in full bore to the country scene in Nashville and gave my notice. Libby understood why I had to leave, thanked me for my time, and wished me luck.
A couple of years later I was gigging at Tootsies and ran into one of the girls who had been a regular guest singer at Libby’s. Sadly, she informed me that Libby had just passed away at the age of 65. We reminisced about what a great time we always had back in the day, and how much he had cared about music and people. Libby was a sweet old guy and had treated me with the utmost respect. He gave me a chance when I needed it. I will always look back on those days with fondness, and will be forever grateful to have known Libby Knight.
As my first summer in Nashville was drawing to a close, I was basically jobless, running out of savings, and fast realizing that I had a long way to go to become proficient at playing country music, a style that was quite new to me. For many newcomers to Nashville, sitting in, gigging, and networking around town can make you feel like you are under a microscope, as was also the case for me. I had converted the basement of my rented home in Gallatin into a studio where my daily ritual consisted of learning country standards and practicing my chicken pickin’ technique (I was also conducting an eBay campaign and gradually selling off everything I could stand parting with). But all this practicing alone wasn’t enough. I needed some practical live experience but, after my recent debacle on Broadway, needed to accomplish this outside of the microscope for a bit. So when I got a phone call from Gordon, a keyboard player I had recently met, about playing in a house band for a country music talent show in Kentucky, I jumped at the offer.
Libby Knight, owner of Libby’s Steakhouse in Daysville, Kentucky, had been a longtime supporter of country music, hosting his talent show “Live at Libby’s” since 1984. During the show’s heyday there was a live radio broadcast, and it was from this venue that many singers like Garth Brooks, Tracy Lawrence, JoDee Messina, Trisha Yearwood, and others once performed in obscurity, some, arguably getting their start there (it is rumored that at one time record deals for some artists began to take shape in the front lobby). The boom days of this once would-be Opry style country music house now long gone, this was the perfect low-pressure opportunity I needed to hone my country chops.
During my phone call with Gordon, he explained to me that the Friday night show was an audition night for singers. Libby would pick the best vocalists to come back and rehearse with the band Saturday afternoon from 1 to 4, after which the band would be provided a dinner followed by the Saturday night concert from 8 to 11. For our services, each band member would receive $100 total for both nights. While this was not the greatest pay, I didn’t mind as I greatly needed the experience. Not to mention that a hundred dollars was a lot more than I was earning on most weekends at this point in time, which was typically nothing. Of course my first weekend at Libby’s was an audition for me as well. I had already done a gig with Gordon and he liked my playing, but the band leader had yet to hear my playing and I would have to win him over to be offered a regular spot.
I left Gallatin late in the afternoon on a Friday to make the hour and a half drive north into Kentucky. The scenic drive was mesmerizing at times as I found my way through a maze of picturesque back roads laced with cornfields, cattle grazing across rolling pastures, and the occasional small town. I arrived to the rural community of Daysville and pulled into Libby’s, a long barnlike structure that sat adjacent to a large field and reeked of another era. After loading in my gear and meeting Libby and the other musicians, I went over to a long row of tables at which several of the players had gathered, organizing their charts. “We’ve got charts for pretty much everything we’ll be playing.” said Gordon “Here’s a set list that shows the order of the singers, and the songs they’ll be doing.” I grabbed my charts, put them in order, and got ready to play.
Libby was a colorful character, upbeat and generally excited about these events, and this enthusiasm was evident a little while later when the show began with his announcements. Well dressed in a white shirt, Wrangler jeans, cowboy boots, and 10 gallon hat, he spoke from side stage with a deep resonant voice infested with a thick southern drawl and introduced the show as if it were the Grand Ole’ Opry. He disappeared behind the curtain while the audience was still applauding and we were off and running. After the first two songs, which featured the house band, he returned to announce the first vocalist to audition. We began playing the intro to ‘Walkin’ After Midnight’ as he walked off and an attractive young lady dressed for success walked onto the stage and saddled up to the mic. The band, which was comprised of some great players, was instantly cookin’, the young lady sang well, and the song was well received. Libby returned to the stage to rally some more support from the crowd and announced the next singer.
The material we played throughout the night was a mix of classic and new country, and the Nashville style number charts were of immense help. Some of these songs I knew, many I had heard but never played, and some were completely foreign to my ears. For the songs that required a lead guitar intro that I didn’t know, the bass player helped me out by humming the phrase right before the count off. All in all, I played well, enjoyed playing with the other musicians and singers (maybe not all of the singers), and everyone seemed to like my playing. We played two long sets with this format which had a surprisingly smooth flow, largely due to Libby and the band leader’s organization, and the night came to an end.
I returned the next afternoon for the rehearsal and ran through tunes with the best singers chosen from the night before. Each singer was allotted two songs for Saturday night’s show, so we spent much of this time learning songs we hadn’t played the night before. The rehearsal was kind of long, but the atmosphere was relaxed. We broke for dinner, a feast which consisted of your choice of one of Libby’s famous steaks or fried catfish with sides of baked potato, hush puppies, coleslaw, and sweet tea – a Southern delight. Making the mistake of over-eating, or perhaps just underestimating the fat content of this meal, I felt a bit “heavy” after dinner so I attempted to walk some of it off in the parking lot before the show.
A little while later I was back at the “chart table” with the other players organizing my stack of charts for the night. At eight o’clock sharp we were off and running after another excited send-off from Libby. Similarly to the night before, everything went real smooth. Vocalist after vocalist took the stage – young ladies sporting big hairdo’s and dressed in evening gowns, men clad in jeans, plaid shirts and cowboy hats, a couple of teenage prodigy’s – even an elderly gentleman in his 60’s sang country classics giving it their all. The crowd was attentive and even sang and clapped along at times. Adding an element of showbiz to the night, Libby would walk out from behind the curtain every once in a while and raise his arms in the air to incite additional applause after modulations and solos.
Just as we did the night before, the band played great, and most of the singers were excellent. The afternoon rehearsal allowed the band and singers to become comfortable with the material and really dig in during the show. Nothing like the helter-skelter nature of the in-town Nashville club scene, this gig was relaxed and outside of the microscope, but still had a professional edge.
I left the gig in good spirits and made the long drive home. It would be a little while before I was asked to return as I was subbing and the other lead player had not yet made a permanent exit, but a few weeks later I was asked to become a permanent member of the house band. I had passed the audition and landed what turned out to be the perfect gig for me to hone my country chops. Live at Libby’s – country music basic training!
During the summer of 2002 I was aggressively exploring the live music scene of Nashville. Upon the recommendation of my friend, D, I was regularly making the rounds at clubs on Broadway, Printers Alley, and other spots around the city to better understand the scene, and to begin building the relationships I would need to succeed here. For the most part I was in kind of a watch and learn mode, often finding a table with my wife at the back of these clubs and just listening to the performers, sometimes even writing down the names of unfamiliar songs on napkins to learn later. Most of my musical background is rooted in rock, blues and jazz, so the repertoire played by most of these artists and bands, being mostly country, was largely foreign to me. Not to mention the art of country guitar playing, partly based on a technique called “chicken pickin”, was something I had yet to conquer.
I had already successfully sat in on a few occasions, carefully choosing situations that would allow me to showcase on songs and styles that were familiar to me, but for the most part I had avoided sitting in with bands that played mainly country. D had conveyed to me the importance of slowly building a great reputation – “Good news travels slow, but if you fart on stage they will immediately hear about it all over town.” So I was slowly and carefully building my reputation. But this cautious approach prevented me from sitting in on many occasions, fearful that I would get in over my head. D respected the fact that I was being cautious, but he also knew that I was beginning to become pigeonholed as a rock player as I never sat in on country tunes. So maybe that was part of the reason he invited me to a 6 to 10 shift he was playing on a Saturday night in the front room of Tootsies.
My wife, Kelly, and I arrived downtown around seven o’clock and found a parking spot. The summer air was hot and thick and people were out in abundance. We walked into Tootsies, which was packed to the gills, and found a spot to stand near the bar a few feet from the tiny stage. D spotted us and gave me a nod. He was playing with a stripped down Broadway unit of drums, bass, and guitar, fronted by an otherwise typical looking country singer sporting a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, denim shirt, and Wrangler jeans. The band was cranking out country standards in rapid succession, the tempos were fast, the music was loud, and the crowd was partying heavily. After an hour or so D looked over at me and said “Do you want to play a couple?” Feeling that I needed to rise to this occasion, I nodded yes and walked over to the stage.
As I hopped up on to the overcrowded stage he handed me his guitar and said “Just ask the bass player if you don’t know the changes, he’ll help you through.” I had just barely strapped on the guitar when the singer shouted out “OK boys, Rocky Top in G”, a country standard I had heard on several occasions but had yet to play. It just so happened that the singer was playing an acoustic and, as the first verse is just acoustic and vocals, this gave me time to figure out the chord progression. So when the whole band came in after the first chorus, I was right there with them, sort of. While I did manage to improvise, or fumble, my way through the first solo without any glaring problems, apparently I was a little heavy handed on the rhythm of the next verse, probably due to years of playing in rock bands combined with almost no experience playing country. D motioned from his spot at the bar to hush my volume a little and I attempted to do so. I managed to get all the way to the end of the main part of the song, hanging on by a thread, before it began to get ugly.
For those of you unfamiliar with this Broadway classic, the main body of the song is played with a half-time feel, the song modulates up a whole step, and then the song kicks into double time for a long-winded fiddle solo outro. So, being the only soloist in this situation, it was my job to mimic the fiddle solo, and I managed to do so quite poorly. While I had been practicing my chicken pickin’ technique daily for a couple of months by this point, this was probably my first practical application. I quickly learned that practicing this style with a metronome or CD at home, and improvising a would-be fiddle solo at warp speed with a band in a nightclub are two different things. No matter what I heard in my head, my fingers just wouldn’t do it. I hacked, chopped, and butchered my way through two long choruses that seemed to drag on for eternity.
The song ended and the crowd of tourists cheered, completely oblivious to my train wreck. But I am certain that the other players on stage did hear every single ugly note I played. D certainly did as he quickly came to my rescue, snatching the guitar from my hands before I could do any more damage. “That one got away from you a little bit.” he kindly said as I left the stage. Feeling less than excited about hanging around after this awkward moment, we left after a couple more songs.
The next day D called me and we spoke about my debacle. “I think you should stay away from Broadway for a little while, at least until you get a little more familiar with the songs and the style. The guys I was playing with last night are cool and know you’re still learning, so there’s no harm done there. But you definitely don’t want to want to do anything like that again.”
I had already been playing guitar for over 20 years and could play rock and blues as good as most. But country music wasn’t yet in my vocabulary, and chicken pickin’ was as foreign to me as French Morocco. It was like learning how to play guitar all over again. That one train wreck made it apparent to me that I was going to have to practice for three to four hours a day for quite a while to learn this new language. So that’s just what I did. I obtained recordings of as many country standards as I could and burned mix CDs. I began dissecting the songs, writing number charts for them, learning arrangements, rhythms, solos, even bass lines. As chicken pickin’ is essential to traditional country guitar playing, I followed one piece of great advice from D “Put on a CD of old-school country and improvise solos over entire songs using the chicken pickin’ technique.” I forced myself to do this and, although I sometimes felt like throwing my guitar through the window, slowly began to see improvement. I was determined to never have another moment like my debacle on Broadway ever happen again. And while I did eventually get the hang of chicken pickin’, to this day, I still cringe every time I hear Rocky Top!
In this day and age, looking the part is often just as important as playing the parts for many professional musicians. This is equally important for those who have not yet achieved a career in music, but are working towards one. While being proficient on your instrument and possessing good social and networking skills are obviously important, in the world of live music performance, your appearance can sometimes be a deciding factor on getting the gig.
It’s easy to find the right clothes, and it’s a well-known fact that working out and having a good physique will make those close “hang well” on your frame. But for some (men especially), the hairstyle, or lack thereof, can be a dealbreaker. I’m not talking about the 20 something’s with the $300 spiky mod looking haircuts. As much as I don’t care for that look, they are not the biggest offenders of the modern day hair wars. In my opinion, it’s the guys who are losing their hair but living in denial that really need to rethink the current state of the top of their heads.
It’s no secret that many of us have lost, are losing, or will lose much our hair over the course of our lives. For some it begins as early as late teens or early 20s, for others it might not happen until they’re in their 30s or 40s, while others manage to hold on to most of their mop until old age. Sometimes this hair loss happens rapidly, over several months or a couple of years and sometimes it can occur very slowly and gradually over decades. Some just get a little bald patch near the back of our head, while others are stricken with more of that dreaded “parting of the seas” look.
Many musicians take great pride in their hair, often choosing a style that works for them in their younger years and sticking with that as they age. Some will sport short to medium length do’s while others choose to wear it long, anywhere from the mid-60s Beatles look all the way to full-blown hippie length. But if you are in the unlucky category that many of us fall into, that being the permanent hair loss club, these styles will begin to create a different effect and take on new meanings as these hair follicles slowly begin to vanish forever.
Are you the guy with the comb-over? If you are, you’re not fooling anyone. Maybe you’re the guy that had hair like Greg Allman when you were in your 20s. Oh, how the girls loved it back then. But how are you being perceived now when that part between you’re neatly combed and blowdried shoulder length blond hair rival’s the San Andrea’s fault? Probably more like the friendly lion in the wonderful Wizard of Oz. There’s always a baseball cap. But eventually, as people notice over time that you’re never seen without one, it will become a dead giveaway that you’re hiding something. You could always grow a beard and start wearing a cowboy hat, sporting your version of some kind of half assed Travis Tritt look, but that’s a pretty big commitment, and not that hip anyway. Not to mention, when you commit to the whole hat thing, what happens when you go swimming? What happens the first time you sleep with a new girlfriend?
Face it, none of this works. Yet, somehow, we see people that look like this all the time. Well I have some great news for all of you who are fighting this futile “battle of the bald”. There is a way out, and I’m not talking about hair transplants, wigs, or toupe’s. Just let it go. That’s right, shave it off. Bald is beautiful, baby. For proof, look no further than Telly Savalas or Bruce Willis.
Growing up, I had a thick head of hair, and by the time I was 15 had already experimented with growing it long. I went in and out of short hair and long hair mode for a few years before going all out in the late 80s, when I began sporting a full-blown Richard Marx style mullet. Of course, at that moment in time that style was in, so spending 20 minutes with a can of moose and a blow dryer to get ready to go out for the night, or gig, was completely natural. Of course I kept this “helmet do” well into the 90s, long after it had become unfashionable. Then, in my mid-20s, it all started going quite badly.
Over a period of about a year, I lost most of the hair in the middle of my head. It happened so quickly that I hardly even noticed at first. But then when my girlfriend started telling me that I was beginning to look like Michael Bolton, I knew something was wrong. On a bad day, my massive bouffant do, once reminiscent of Peter Frampton’s early look, began to look more like that of the comedian, Gallagher. Comments like “Here comes Billy Crystal” or “Is that Stephen Wright?” and even “When did David Crosby lose all that weight?” also caused much embarrassment. So I began a slow transformation. I attempted to minimize my baldness by wearing hats, doo-rags, even at times pulling it back into a ponytail. But ultimately, this wasn’t working. Half the time it just looked bad.
So finally, around the year 2000, I took it down to a fairly short length, just an inch or so on top. It was better than having “Gallagher syndrome”, but still not quite right. Shaving it down to the scalp was the only thing left to try. At first, I was horrified at the thought of doing this, but with a little prodding from my wife, I went for it. Boy am I glad I did. I instantly realized that bald works for me. Having a bunch of hair on the sides with the bald spot in the middle was simply drawing attention to the fact that I was balding. Lose all that hair, and you create the perception that you are bald by choice, not because of nature. In other words, nobody can tell that all your hair fell out. Now when I look in the mirror, I feel younger.
Plus there are many added benefits. Showers now take five minutes. I save a small fortune on shampoo and conditioner and haven’t bought a comb or a hair brush in decades. Getting ready to go to work or out on the town now only takes seconds. It’s harder to get dandruff, and my head is now essentially “lice-proof”. But most important of all, I no longer look like an idiot.
So which guy are you? Are you still clinging to the past, or have you embraced your inner baldness? Whose look do you relate to more, Stephen Gallagher or Bruce Willis? It’s not too late to save yourself. So what are you waiting for, get out those clippers and get busy!
As a professional freelance musician working and living in Nashville, much of the work I perform is for other people’s entities, as is true for many hired guns. I’m not complaining mind you, this is how the bills get paid. My regular gig as tour manager/guitarist for Rhett Akins occupies many weekends throughout the year, and sporadic nightclub gigs and songwriter recording projects help to fill in the gaps. As rewarding as some of this work can be, it all comes under the heading of ‘gun for hire’ which means I must meet somebody else’s expectations, as they are footing the bill, often adjusting my musical tastes and desires to fit the gig.
So whenever it’s feasible, I take on gigs purely for my own musical expression, a little ‘music for the soul’ as I call it. Now that fall is here and the annual touring/festival season is drawing to a close, I’ll have a little more time for these kinds of endeavors. With that, I’m excited to tell you about my new project – Eric Normand and Endless Boogie. The concept of this band is simple. I will play only music that I enjoy playing, with people whom I enjoy playing, in venues that are enjoyable to play.
Growing up in the 70s and 80s I always looked back a few years to find my musical heroes; Jimi Hendrix, the Allman Brothers, ZZ Top, John Lee Hooker, and to this day this is still some of the most expressive music I ever play. So in my new Nashville based ‘fun band’ that’s just what were going to do. The song list will contain Hendrix classics like Little Wing, Voodoo Child, and All along the Watchtower, Allman Brothers classics like You Don’t Love Me, Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More, Melissa, and Whipping Post, classic blues songs like Freddie King’s Going Down, John Lee Hooker’s Hug You, Kiss You, Squeeze You, and even a few of my favorite instrumentals by Miles Davis and The Meters. Needless to say, we will put our own spin on these.
As I live in Nashville, and this kind of song list will not command top pay, getting great players to commit to a gig like this isn’t easy. All the best players are usually pretty busy taking the most lucrative gigs offered, and even if you get them to commit, something always seems to come up. So you either have to have two or three players deep on each instrument that know your material, or you have to wait till the last minute to book the players. I got real lucky for this first outing of Endless Boogie as a couple of my good friends, Fran Breen and Mike Chapman, just happened to be available.
Fran Breen is a world-class drummer from Ireland that has worked on and off in the Nashville music industry for over 20 years. He’s played with a few major artists like Lucinda Williams, Nancy Griffith, Shelby Lynn, and is also an accomplished session drummer having played on countless projects over the years including the soundtrack for the movie “The Commitments” . He’s a top notch groove machine, especially when it comes to blues and funk, and I’m thrilled to have him on the gig. (Plus he is really funny and has the coolest Irish accent.)
Mike Chapman is one of the best bassists Nashville has to offer, and another ace in the hole who happens to be a good friend of mine. Mike’s first big gig was with Hank Williams Jr. in the early 80s, since which time he has played on innumerable A-list recording sessions ranging from literally all of Garth Brooks recordings to Leanne Rimes, Brooks & Dunn, Huey Lewis and countless others. Mike has played bass on over 30 number 1 singles and the albums that he has played on have sold over 150 million copies. If it sounds like I’m bragging a little bit about these guys, it’s because I am. I mean how often does one get to say “My drummer played on the Commitments soundtrack” or “My bass player has been heard on 150 million albums”?
The last ingredient for my first outing with ‘Endless Boogie’ is a fun venue in which to play. The Fillin’ Station, located on Main Street in Kingston Springs, is the perfect venue for an intimate night of exploratory rockin’ blues and funk jams. While playing on big tours in front of thousands of people can be exciting, sometimes the finer points of the music get lost in the ‘bigness’ of those events. To this day, my favorite musical settings are small to midsize nightclubs, for it is in these small-town bars and juke joints of the world where the magic really happens. The Fillin’ Station is owned by Patrick Weickenand, former member of Eric Burdon’s band ‘War’ and one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet who also blows a mean harp from behind the bar from time to time. The club is small but comfortable, and has an adjoining outdoor patio which fills up with locals on many a night. The club is just 25 minutes from downtown Nashville (exit 188 off of I40 west) and features live music four to five nights a week year-round, never with a cover.
I’ve been wanting to put together a group like this for a few years now, toying with the idea periodically, but never quite getting organized enough to make it happen. But I’ve realized that this is just what you have to do in Nashville, you have to find a way to not lose sight of your own vision even while you spend most of your time working for other people. My musical dreams at this point of my life are quite simple, I want to play the music that I love to play, the way I want to play it, hopefully taking a few others along for the ride.
So that’s it, all the essential ingredients are in line for an expressive night of music – songs I enjoy playing, people I enjoy playing with, and a place I enjoy playing at. Our show will be this coming Saturday, October 16 from 7:00 to 11:00. I’m really pumped for this show, so if you live in the Nashville area come on down for a night of Endless Boogie!